Indonesia to Israel: You Are Welcome to Compete in U20 FIFA World Cup In Our Country

Photo by Seb Daly – UEFA/UEFA via Sportsfile

In October 2019, when Indonesia were awarded the right to host the 2021 U20 World Cup, Israel would have been the last thing on their mind. Israel had only once previously qualified for the U19 European Championships, the tournament that acts as the European qualifier for the U20 FIFA World Cup, and then they lost every game they played. 

But then COVID happened and the tournament was postponed for two years.

Still, what were the chances that Israel would not only qualify for the elite 8-team 2022 U19 European Championships, but do well enough to finish as one of the five best teams?

Funny how life works as this is exactly what happened and now everyone has to deal with the fact that an Israeli team will be competing in Indonesia. 

There have been issues in the past with Israeli athletes competing in Indonesia but these were minor events; nothing the magnitude of FIFA’s prestigious World Youth Cup. 

With the eyes of the world on Indonesia, it can’t afford to be anything but a gracious host and the early signs that it will be are promising.

The Minister of Youth and Sports, Zainudin Amali, put out a statement ensuring the Israeli national team could compete safely.

“We have been discussing it since 2019. All countries that qualify to participate in the 2023 U-20 World Cup are welcome to play,” said Amali.

“Make sport nothing to do with politics. That’s why FIFA has conveyed to us, any country that passes, must be able to compete in Indonesia. So, there is no problem. Surely our security forces will provide a sense of security. This is something that needs to be considered.”

This flies in the face of athletes from certain countries forfeiting every time they come up against an Israeli athlete and if this can lead to much less of that, it would be a huge step to normalizing relations.

The irony of this incredible sporting achievement is that because the tournament is being played in Indonesia, it has the ability to transcend into something much much bigger than sport. 
Indonesia and Israel’s rocky relationship is well known and with sport’s ability to build bridges, could this lead to a diplomatic breakthrough?

This would be incredible given that just to have Indonesian and Israeli officials in the same room has historically been an near-impossible ask. 

Back to the football pitch, it’s our hope that the footballers are allowed to be footballers and just focus on that. It will be curious to see what sort of reception the Indonesian public gives the team next May.

And if Indonesia and Israel are drawn in the same group and have to play each other, this surreal story will just go to another level altogether. 

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David Wiseman

David Wiseman is the co-founder of Follow Team Israel, a Facebook page devoted to sharing the stories of Israeli sport to the world. It's the premier source of news about Israeli sport in English. https://www.facebook.com/FollowTeamIsrael